Bodies, writer Carmen Maria Machado says, are these “sorts of unknowable animals attached to us.”
Ones over which women have traditionally been denied control.
In her short-story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” the science fiction and fantasy author writes about what she sees as a rebellion of sorts.
“Women are constantly trying to take back control,” she said in a telephone interview. “And I’m very interested in the oppressed body, what that looks like historically and what (fighting back) could look like. … I want to bring my own sort of perceptions of the world and how I occupy the world as a woman, as a queer woman, using magic and science fiction and horror elements to make those points.”
Machado, 31, will be among the featured authors appearing at the inaugural Greensboro Bound Literary Festival.
The festivities will kick off May 17 with an event emceed by former North Carolina poet laureate Fred Chappell at the Weatherspoon Art Museum. Panels, workshops, musical performances and author talks will take place in various venues around downtown over the next three days.
About 70 writers are scheduled to appear including novelist and Wake Forest University professor Naima Coster, cookbook author John T. Edge, and poet Nikki Giovanni, who will deliver the closing keynote address May 20 in Harrison Auditorium at N.C. A&T.
Machado will speak on the afternoon of May 19 in the Van Dyke Performance Space at the Greensboro Cultural Center.
Machado was born in Allentown, Pa., and grew up reading Ray Bradbury, Madeleine L’Engle, Louis Sachar and Christopher Pike, and listening to her Cuban grandfather’s stories. She also was and remains a video game enthusiast. “Bloodborne” is among her current favorites.
“It’s sort of a Lovecraftian, steampunky, horror fighting game,” she said. “A lot of monsters, a lot of blood.”
As a college student, she initially considered studying journalism.
“I thought, ‘Journalism, that’s a way to make money as a writer,’ ” she said. “Obviously the world has changed tremendously since then. A lot of my friends who were journalism majors lost their jobs eventually. But I took a couple of journalism classes and thought ‘This really isn’t for me.’ ”
During her sophomore year, she participated in a fiction-writing workshop. She graduated with a degree in creative writing from American University in 2007, and later participated in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, one of the most prestigious creative writing programs in the country.
“Her Body and Other Parties,” which was a finalist for last year’s National Book Award for best fiction, took five years to come together.
The book contains eight short stories, among them tales about a woman who wears a green ribbon with a secret, and what happens when her husband insists on knowing the secret; a condition that causes women to fade away; and a woman who can hear what performers in adult films are thinking.
One story, “Especially Heinous,” features synopses of 272 “Law & Order SVU” episodes. A typical description reads, “Benson dreams that Henson and Abler seize her eyeballs and pull them out slowly, the nerve bundles stretching and drooping like silly putty.”
Critics have praised her dark, sometimes erotic takes on fairy tale conventions.
Machado said she wants people to get pleasure out of reading the stories but also feel uncomfortable.
“I’m particularly interested in fiction and art in general that makes you feel like you’re sort of about to crawl out of your skin, because something is being shown to you that you had never thought about before,” she said. “I don’t want people to read my work and feel safe. I’m interested in challenging how people perceive things. And for people who recognize elements of themselves in the stories, I hope the stories give them new ways to think about their own bodies in the world.”